3 Lubrication Myths Impacting Your Production

Jeremy Wright, Advanced Technology Services
Tags: lubrication programs

Which lubrication misconceptions are hurting your operations? It’s well worth your time to find the answers. Addressing lubrication issues can provide any industrial facility with significant financial opportunities and a rapid return on investment (ROI).

My specialized career as a lubrication expert has allowed me to travel to many different manufacturing facilities, ranging from the steel industry to food and beverage, and everything in between.

At several of these plants, I have observed some key lubrication misconceptions worth noting. These myths can have extreme consequences and yet are easily remedied. Following are the top three lubrication misconceptions that can impact your production.

Myth #1: Lubricating industrial equipment is simple and easy.

Fact #1: It is a highly detailed and complex process that requires expertise.

This misconception is deeply rooted in culture, so it’s easy to see why this myth is so commonly held. There’s an old saying that “oil is oil, and grease is grease.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. There are endless possibilities for lubricant formulations, and each one is slightly different and affects the machine in its own way.

Aside from the correct lubricant selection is the actual application. How difficult can it be to hit a few fittings with a grease gun? The “rights” of lubrication spell it out - put the right lubricant in the right place, in the right volume, at the right frequency and using the right procedure. While this may sound simple, it isn’t when you consider the sheer volume, variety and complexity of tasks required to keep industrial machinery properly lubricated.

Start by asking the right questions. Consider how many pieces of equipment you have in your plant. Next, look at how many separate components each one contains that involve lube-related tasks (e.g., motors, gearboxes, shaft bearings, couplings, filters, etc.).

How many individual lube tasks are associated with each of these components? Keep in mind that some components may require many different tasks that go beyond simple application of grease, such as checking fluid levels in reservoirs, monitoring filters and seals or taking oil samples. In addition, many of these tasks must be conducted at varying intervals (e.g., daily, weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, annually, etc.). Across several thousand lube points, multiple tasks at varying frequencies can add up fast.

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If you haven’t performed this type of assessment in your facility, the yearly totals can be a real eye-opener. It is not uncommon for a well-developed lubrication program to have hundreds of thousands or even millions of individual tasks over the course of a year. So, maybe it doesn’t sound so simple after all.

But let’s say you’re still not convinced. Perhaps you’re in the camp that says, “Lube tasks are lube tasks,” so what could possibly go wrong? Plenty. The wrong lubricant could be specified or applied at the wrong interval, or maybe the lube tech simply uses too much, too little or the wrong lubricant. Let’s not forget contamination, blown seals, etc. The list of what could go wrong is endless. It only takes one step in the task to miss the mark for the entire system to come crashing down.

Then there’s the skill level of lube personnel. The best lube techs are rapidly aging out, and their replacements may not have the same level of knowledge or experience. How well do today’s lube techs really know their jobs? More to the point, how well is management supporting them? Do they have access to the right knowledge and tools? According to a survey by the International Council for Machinery Lubrication (ICML), only 12 percent of lubrication personnel from all industrial sectors are professionally certified.

Myth #2: Minimal consequences and benefits are associated with routinely lubricating industrial equipment.

Fact #2: Lubrication has proven to have a significant impact on achieving operational excellence.

This misunderstanding claims that the role lubrication plays in industrial facilities is relatively minor; therefore, it doesn’t warrant special attention. But what does research tell us? We know that the average maintenance budget allocates only 1-3 percent on lubrication depending on the industry. Studies suggest that while only a small amount is spent on lubricants and lubrication, this has a much greater effect on a plant’s overall performance.

Dr. Ernest Rabinowicz, professor emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimated that repairing the effects of friction and mechanical wear on industrial equipment costs the equivalent of 6 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP). Applying this calculation to last year’s GDP results in losses of more than $1 trillion.

Researchers and manufacturers agree that the primary cause of friction and mechanical wear is poor lubrication. In fact, according to the manufacturers of machine components, improper lubrication leads to 43 percent of mechanical failures, 54 percent of bearing failures, 50 percent of roller bearing damage and 70 percent of equipment failures.

Inadequate lubrication is not only a common problem but also a severe one. Whatever the total losses may be worldwide, the more immediate concern is how much improper lubrication is costing your organization. Among the factors to consider are your annual spending on bearings, how many replacement bearings are needed in a given year, the cost to replace just one bearing, and the costs involved in replacing your motors and gearboxes.

You should also determine expenses from unplanned downtime, repetitive cycles of time-intensive reactive maintenance, lost production, safety issues, environmental impacts and higher energy costs. Added together, these costs are more than likely out of control.

Myth #3: Lubrication is an unnecessary cost to the organization.

Fact #3: A quality lubrication program can provide a substantial financial opportunity.

Maintenance budgets remain on the chopping block. Everyone is trying to do more with less. Staffing levels are way down. Skilled positions are being lost to attrition. Instead, wouldn’t it be great if you could just do more with what you already have? That’s precisely the opportunity that a properly developed and managed lubrication program provides.

With lubrication best practices and appropriate management tools, industrial facilities can reduce unplanned downtime and reactive maintenance, eliminate the primary cause of equipment failure at its source, achieve higher productivity from existing equipment assets and personnel, and minimize oil waste and environmental costs.

All of these “costs” should be seen as an investment opportunity in moving your lubrication program toward a world-class level. Remarkable ROI has been generated in many of the world’s most successful programs, often eclipsing the 1,000 percent mark and realized within the first six months. You can reap these same rewards by arming yourself with simple awareness of the truth about lubrication and by developing a strategic game plan.

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